FILMS FROM THE VOID is a journey through junk bins, late night revivals, under seen recesses and reject piles as we try to find forgotten gems and lesser known classics. Join us as we lose our minds sorting through the strange, the sleazy, the sincere and the slop from the past and try to make sense of it all.
The 1982 horror film, The Beast Within, can be seen to be several different kinds of movies rolled into one, with each hiding within the other. It’s essentially the plot of Phillippe Mora’s film, hiding in plain sight. For instance, in the film, you’ve the character of Michael who might be an angsty teenager, the monstrous result of an unholy union, or something else.
The Beast Within, as a film, bounces between several genres in the course of its running time. It’s a horror film, obviously, but it’s also a mystery thriller, as well. Frankly, watching the movie is a completely involving, yet astonishingly uncomfortable experience. Bibi Besch and Ronny Cox as Caroline and Eli MacCleary are kind of the main characters, even though the film is ostensibly about their song Michael, who seems to be suffering from some issues as he hits his seventeenth birthday.
It’s Michael’s conception that presents the first of the majorly uncomfortable aspects. Even though the majority of the film vacillates between mystery thriller — wherein the MacClearys attempt to discover the provenance of their offspring — and straight horror — wherein the MacCleary offspring is either going crazy or changing into some sort of beast — there is a scene early on that’s pure grindhouse sleaze.
I’m referring especially to a scene wherein the MacClearys’ car breaks down, and when Eli goes to get a tow, Caroline wanders out to see what’s going on when there are strange noises in the woods. She’s assaulted by … something … and it’s hard to watch. It’s especially hard to watch, given the incredibly prurient nature of its presentation. Her rape is shown in such a manner that all you see is her bare torso, and her breasts jiggling as she’s attacked. It’s a horrible scene, yet presented in such a way that it’s meant to be a cheap thrill.
The Beast Within can easily be viewed as a monster movie, or something akin to a werewolf film, wherein your adolescent protagonist is undergoing changes that mirror his pubescence in a monstrous manner. However, it can also be viewed as a film wherein there’s a cycle of abuse perpetually perpetrated on multiple generations of women by a man who wishes to see himself immortal, seeking revenge against those who once did him wrong.
Given that a rape in the woods occurs again at the end with Michael’s girlfriend, Amanda — presenting another bit of parallel — the entirety of the film can be seen to be an evil man progenerating himself in order to wreak havoc upon another generation. The beast is seeking revenge on the town which did him wrong.
The thing about it is that those who suffer worst — the MacClearys — are just innocent passers-by. Everything is just the machinations of a character operating from beyond the grave, somehow using folks completely unconnected to the beast’s revenge (which, honestly, is a story barely pertinent to the plot). As a viewer, it can at times feel like you’re being roped into this, as well: just another person being attacked by something they had no connection to.
Mora’s movie is a dirty, mean thing that still manages to entertain. Ronny Cox has always been seen to be slumming in The Beast Within, but he’s so strong in this movie that he can’t be ignored. C’mon: he’s Ronny Cox. How can he not be good, even in a movie as sleazy as this one ends up being? Something about his attempts to find the answers and do right means that The Beast Within has a stronger center than it might otherwise have, especially given the numerous scenery-chewing performances taking place.
In the end, The Beast Within is definitely worth tracking down — there are Arrow Video and Scream Factory versions which are readily available — just to see that the ‘80s wasn’t all horror comedies and bad sci-fi. The decade managed to release some genuinely creepy and uncomfortable films, even in a decade where that sort of thing was in low quantities.